By: Dr. Kemi DaSilva-Ibru
Welcome to the WARIF Survivor Stories Series, a monthly feature, where stories of survivors of rape and sexual violence will be shared to motivate and encourage survivors to speak their truth without the fear of judgement or stigmatization and to educate the public on the sheer magnitude of this problem in our society. The Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF) is a non-profit organization set up in response to the extremely high incidence of rape, sexual violence and human trafficking of young girls and women in our society. WARIF is tackling this issue through a holistic approach which covers initiatives in health, education and community service.
This is Halimat’s Story:
Halimat is my name. I lost my father when I was quite young and the memories, I have of him are faint. I am the third child and the only girl in a family of five. Growing up was uneventful for me and my siblings because my mother had to work several menial jobs coupled with her teaching career to make ends meet. She had to cater to all our needs as a single parent and was the proverbial lamb that kept the family going. My mother sacrificed her dreams to further her education because even though she was very brilliant, she lacked support from my late father’s family towards our financial well-being and this hampered our chances.
My ordeal started when my mother fell seriously ill, her employment was terminated on health grounds and she was given her severance benefits. She decided to return to her remote village to stay with her aged parents and also to get help from community members. She called the three of us with heavy heart and told us that we were going to live with our relations so I was sent to Lagos to live with her elder sister who I will refer to as ‘Big mummy’. Big mummy was married with four children. According to her, I would have a better opportunity of acquiring quality education up till university and their terms for me was to serve as a maid which my mother reluctantly agreed. My immediate elder brother Kabiru was sent to live with another relative in Jos. My mother was left alone with my oldest brother Abdullahi who had completed his Senior Secondary school and was doing menial jobs to help foot part of my mother’s ill health bills.
I arrived Lagos a 15-year-old girl, young and naïve. I was plunged into a new life and family not knowing what fate had in store for me. I was lucky to be accepted by the family members but their family was filled with chaos and animosity because the head of the home ‘Big daddy’ was adulterous. Rumors had it that he had fathered other children from different women. This made ‘Big mummy’ very hostile and indirectly encouraged her husband’s cheating. Although my mother, had prepared my mind a little, living their house was nothing compared to what she described but I endured the pain. I was made to work as a maid and I had to wake up early and be the last person to go to bed, to me; life indeed was a living hell.
Thankfully, I was enrolled in a Senior Secondary school less than a month of my arrival and that became a consolation for me. I looked forward to going to school and I made sure I focused on my studies and I soon became the darling of my teachers. I was even made the class captain of my class and whenever the teachers needed someone to represent the school for my entire arm, I was always chosen. Of course, members of my new household were never happy for me rather they mocked me that I was going end-up a book worm and be like my father who dedicated his life to merit and did not leave any inheritances for his family when he passed. Candidly, all they were saying made no sense to me as I believe people are entitled to their opinions.
After my secondary education and based on my mother’s agreement with ‘Big mummy’, I was to continue staying with the family until I was done with my higher education. Although, my mother was getting better, I was not allowed to visit except we all go together as a family and that only happened twice since I joined ‘Big mummy’s family. Furthermore, I could not bring myself up to tell her any of my ordeals the two times, I saw her. I endured the emotional and physical abuse I was constantly subjected by members of my new household.
You might think that was all the abuse I would be subjected to but alas, I was wrong. Hamidu the second son of ‘Big mummy’ tried to be nice to me occasionally and I noticed him trying to touch me inappropriately when we were alone so I started avoiding him. The company where he worked provided accommodation and so he would only come home on weekends. Big mummy and the rest of the family had travelled out of town this particular weekend and I wasn’t expecting Hamidu because Big Mummy did not say anything but that Friday he came home, asked for his food and went out clubbing. At midnight, I heard him drive into the compound, I followed the sounds expecting him to go to his bedroom upstairs but it seemed like his footsteps were drawing closer to the servants quarters. I heard a knock on my door so I got up to find out what the problem was or if he needed anything. I opened the door and he asked if he could have a word with me. I replied yes and he started begging and crying, he said he wanted me and he needed me. He said if he didn’t have sex with me he would die. I said ‘You are drunk, pls don’t do this’ but he did not listen. He lifted my night gown and raped me. I was angry, bitter and sad. He stood up and told me that in my interest, I should not tell anyone about the incident because ‘No one would believe my story’.
Big mummy and her family returned and they noticed I was not cheerful as I usually was. I started self-harming and contemplating committing suicide but I was certain that would break my mother so I pushed on. The thoughts from the incident also started affecting my academics, I thought of telling my teacher but I remembered his voice ringing loudly in my ears – ‘No one will believe your story’. I tried to forget about the ugly incident and move on but I kept having flashbacks and nightmares. I thought that was the worst that could happen till I started feeling nauseous. I would throw up and be irritated by the smell of things like oil, perfumes and even food. When Hamidu came home, I told him what was going on and so he had me take a test. We found out I was pregnant and he told me to get rid of “that thing” immediately. I started weeping and he reminded me of the threat, ‘No one will believe your story’ so I left his presence and continued sobbing quietly.
It was a few weeks to JAMB when Hamidu told his parents that his company was organizing special tutorials for students who were writing the exam as a form of CSR. He offered that I stay at his apartment for the duration of the tutorials and Big Mummy even thanked him for the kind gesture, she felt he was finally seeing me as his baby sister. He raped me again on three different occasions while I was at his apartment and eventually took me to a quack for an abortion. I thought I was going to die as the pain was unbearable. In the end, he was given a prescription so he could buy medicine to prevent infections and help with the pain. Hamidu refused to buy the medicine and so I bled till I had to be rushed to his company’s clinic.
They informed him that I just committed an abortion and he screamed and scolded me. He asked why I wanted to put him in trouble since all he was wanted to do was help a poor village girl who just came the village. I realized at this time that truly no one would believe me and so I just prayed to survive. I pulled through, luckily; and I think the incident scared Hamidu as well because he never tried to sexually assault me again and even avoided me totally.
Although, Hamidu the perpetrator didn’t return, I never healed emotionally. I was full of anger and bitterness but I found a friend in Mr. Okoroafor, our neighbor who was always looking out for me.He was quite advanced in age so I felt comfortable opening up to him even though, I made up my mind never to share my traumatic rape or near-death abortion experience with anyone. I just always told him I was sad because I miss my mom and couldn’t see her. He always encouraged me to look beyond now and focus on my studies, his words were always calming and reassuring and so sometimes even for just a few minutes, I felt everything was going to be okay.
My results came out and I aced amy papers. I also wrote the JAMB exams, made the required cut-off and gained admission to study Accounting. I returned home after my first semester and saw Hamidu. Hatred, bitterness, resentment, anger and revenge rose up in me and I decided to poison him. I decided to share this plan with my trusted friend, Mr
Okoroafor and so I went to him that evening and narrated my entire ordeal. He looked with disbelief and he said ‘oh my God, child you have been through so much pain’. He went further and said ‘How did you survive this trauma all these years, you must be a special child’. He said ‘I will take up your case legally and sponsor your education. You have found family in me’ He explained to me he was in Lagos for work and took me home to meet with his wife and children living in the East. He also reported my case to the police and to my utter disbelief the perpetrator was arrested.
At the police station, I was referred to WARIF CENTRE for medical assessment, treatment and counselling. All my psychosocial needs were attended to and through therapy sessions with the counselor, I have been able to find the courage to share my story. It hasn’t been easy, as I am still on my healing journey; so many bottled up emotions to uncover and deal with. I can however say that I have made progress and I am grateful to Mr Okoroafor and family, my mother who stood by me since she found out, the counsellor and all the staff at WARIF CENTRE. I am also super- proud of myself for making it this far. If I can do it, you can too.
Dear survivor, please know that you are not alone and it is not your fault. Help is available.
If you have been raped or you know someone who has, please visit us at The WARIF Centre – 6, Turton Street, off Thorburn Avenue, Sabo, Yaba or call our 24-hour (toll-free) confidential helpline on 0800-9210-0009.
For questions or more information please contact: email@example.com *Real name of survivor changed for confidentiality